Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


Mr Donald Michael Devitt

3:53 pm

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death, on 10 July 2008, of Donald Michael Devitt, a senator for the state of Tasmania from 1965 to 1978.

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 10 July 2008, of Donald Michael Devitt, former senator for Tasmania, and places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Donald Devitt was born in 1921, at Launceston, Tasmania, and went to Smithton District High School. He grew up on the north-west coast of Tasmania, the same area in which Senator Nick Sherry and the member for Lyons, Dick Adams, grew up. Don was a good friend of Senator Sherry’s father, Ray.

Don served in both the Army and the RAAF during World War II. He enlisted in the AMF in 1942 and transferred to the 2nd AIF seven months later. In 1944 he enlisted in the RAAF, where he served for just under a year. Don also joined the Citizen Military Force from 1951 to 1952.

He spent many years working as a council clerk in Tasmania. During this period Don was a member of the Council Clerk Municipality of Queenstown, Scottsdale and Beaconsfield. He was also an associate of the Institute of Municipal Administration and a member of the state executive of the Council Clerks Association of Tasmania. From 1956 until 1964, Don worked as a farmer.

Don joined the ALP in 1955. He served as president and secretary of his local branch and was also a member of the state and federal executive in 1969. Don was a well-known figure in the Tasmanian ALP. I am told that he loved to sing and play the guitar. He apparently entertained many after-dinner get-togethers at ALP conferences.

Don was elected as a Labor senator for Tasmania at the 1964 election. Don was known as a hard-working senator and during his 14 years here he served on many parliamentary committees. These included the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, from 1967 to 1976; a legislative and general purpose committee, the Senate Finance and Government Operations Committee, from 1971 to 1975; the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, from 1973 to 1975; the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee from 1976 to 1978; and the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory from 1967 to 1975. Don also participated in many parliamentary delegations including the parliamentary delegations to Anzac Day celebrations in Papua New Guinea in 1966 and 1969, and the parliamentary delegation to the USSR, Sweden and Denmark in 1973.

Don had a strong interest in Tasmanian shipping and the Antarctic. In the summer of 1976-77, he had the distinction of being the first senator in the history of the Commonwealth to visit Macquarie base and Mawson’s Hut in Antarctica.

After his retirement in 1978, Don remained very active in the Tasmanian ALP and was very supportive and encouraging of up-and-coming candidates. He and his wife, Dorothy, were members of the Devonport branch, and Don remained a member until his death. He is remembered with enormous affection, in particular by those in the party who knew him.

In his retirement, Don also immersed himself in lapidary. He had a workshop at home and would participate in gemstone associations. Don also loved sailing and did a lot of sailing out of Devonport.

Don passed away on 10 July this year on the eve of his 87th birthday. His funeral was held on 16 July. On behalf of the government I offer our condolences to his wife, Dorothy, and their children and grandchildren.

3:57 pm

Photo of Nick MinchinNick Minchin (SA, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the coalition I am pleased to have the opportunity to offer our sincere condolences to the family of former senator Donald Devitt. As Senator Conroy mentioned, Don commenced in the Senate as a representative for the Labor Party from Tasmania. I think it is worth noting that one of the great things about our Constitution and the make-up of this chamber is that a state like Tasmania has equal representation with all the other states, which enables people like Don Devitt to have the opportunity to serve in this place.

It is recorded that he was a quiet but very conscientious senator. He came here with much administrative experience in local government in Tasmania, and I think that is a good background for service in this chamber. As I understand it, he was passionate about local government and, in his first speech, highlighted his concerns about the financial support for that level of government, which no doubt is an ongoing and perennial issue, but one that we must all be conscious of.

As someone who also served on the Senate Regulations and Ordinances Committee, I think it is also worth nothing Don’s long service as a member of that committee, which, I think, is one of the most important and perhaps undervalued committees that we have in this place. He was a member of the committee from 1967 to 1976 and he chaired it from 1973 to 1975. He was a long-serving member of the very important Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory and a member of the Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House, from 1967 to 1969, but those of us who have our doubts about this place should not blame him. I also understand that in 1976-77 he became the first senator ever to visit Macquarie base and Mawson’s Hut in Antarctica, which was a great achievement.

He was of course also in the Senate during the three extraordinarily turbulent years leading up to the dismissal of the Whitlam government, and thus was one of those privileged or otherwise to be part of the most controversial and dramatic period in Australian political history, and one I am sure we will never see repeated. Therefore he witnessed the tumultuous changes of government that occurred in 1972 and 1975 from the perspective of the Senate.

I am advised he remained active in the Labor Party after his retirement and was very well respected in his home state of Tasmania. I think it is worthy for former senators to continue to serve their parties after their service in this chamber. To Don’s wife, Dorothy, and his children, we the coalition place on record our appreciation of his public service and we tender our profound sympathy to the family in their bereavement.

4:00 pm

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I concur and also extend profound sympathy to Don’s wife of 61 years, Dorothy, and to his family. It must have been in the seventies that I was invited to Senator Don Devitt’s home in Devonport, and I will never forget it, because I was a very shy character—

Photo of Nick MinchinNick Minchin (SA, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Hard to believe, Bob!

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, it is true. And here this national senator had invited me to talk about, no doubt, environmental and other issues of the day. He was an instantly likeable character who extended friendship, accommodation and encouragement. I shall never forget Don Devitt because of that particular moment when it was so much needed as far as I am concerned. I will read from the notice of his passing in the Mercury of 12 July from his family. He was called ‘D’ by the family. The notice read:

D lived his life for his family and his community. He encouraged us to live without regret, to go forward and to believe in ourselves, as he believed in us. He loved us all unconditionally. We loved him so.

What a splendid tribute from the family to this former senator!

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.